Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Ch*nk in my Armor: What I learned from Jeremy Lin

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ve likely heard something about professional basketball player Jeremy Lin. Coming completely out of nowhere to suddenly be the talk of not only the sports world but also dominating the national news as well; Jeremy has seemingly followed the same unimaginable and unbelievable career path as Ted Williams.  Remember him, the guy with the “golden voice” who meteorically shot to stardom after being put on YouTube.  Lin, despite being awarded as one of the best basketball players in California, received little college attention and ended up playing at Harvard—a prestigious place for academics but hardly noticeable for athletics.  After being passed up in the draft, he was signed, then waived by a couple teams before landing with the New York Knicks and the rest is history. Besides the sports aspect, there has been another faced to his story—his ethnicity—he the first American-born player in the NBA of Chinese or Taiwanese descent; and this is where the story begins.

“Linsanity,” as it is so-called, has brought up some discussion regarding race and ethnicity in America and American sports.  How could Lin have been passed over by so many teams, both in college and the NBA? Did his ethnicity have anything to do with that? Then came the headline, one similar to the title of this blog—one that I am very reticent to even repeat. The thing is, when I first heard about this story, I didn’t even realize such a word could be used as a racial slur; I was quite naïve. I consoled myself that it’s better to be naïve about things like this—knowing all these nasty things won’t help me any; and then I came to my senses.

Some Americans—and I should clarify by saying white middle-class Americans (mostly males)—believe that if they are not aware of racism and prejudice in America, it must not exist. It’s sort of like the Ostrich with its head in the sand, we tend to busy ourselves with so many other things we (intentionally?) blind ourselves to what is going on around us.  It’s amazing how whenever the issue of race comes up in a political discussion, pundits seem to always deride those who are “playing the race card.”  Oddly enough, those saying race and prejudice isn’t an issue in America anymore happen to be white.

There are four methods of racism/exclusion, as suggested by write Miroslav Volf.  There is the violence of expulsion, the violence of assimilation, the subjugating of the other, and the exclusion by the indifference of abandonment.  Americans have been guilty of all of these forms of racism and prejudice.   America practiced violent expulsion through slavery, “internment camps” during WWII, and so on. America practiced the violent assimilation by way of our cultural imperialism demanding adherence to the “American Way” and the abandoning of all former ways and cultures in order to jump into the “Melting Pot.”   We see the subjugating of others in America in the “separate but equal” laws of the south, lack of funding for schools and job training for minorities in the inner-cities, and the antagonism displayed toward immigrants from Mexico (otherwise known as “illegal”).  America has practiced abandonment through the current political climate in which recipients of government aid are deemed lazy and as entitlement moochers.  Rather than address the situations and structures from which they have descended into poverty, America chooses to simply look down our nose at them before turning the other way. We are all guilty. I am guilty.

I was foolish enough to think that since I didn’t realize the word “Chink” could be used as a racial slur, I was innocent—the opposite is true; my ignorance is my sin.  I am a racist and I am prejudiced, for even though I may not knowingly participate in racist acts, I still participate in and often promote a culture which is explicitly racist and prejudiced toward anything other than itself.  My ignorance is my shame, rather than reaching out to those around me who are different and listening to their stories and hearing their concerns, I have transgressed through my lack of understanding—for that I can only apologize.  As I write this I am aware that I am not addressing other forms of prejudice such as gender, religion, sexual orientation while also painfully conscious of the still other forms of racism and prejudice I am not aware of and unknowingly participate in daily—perhaps even in the words of this article—this is my indignity.

It is my prayer going forward that I will remove my own blinders that limit my ability to see prejudice around me, conquer my hesitancy to connect with those different than myself, strive to become aware of the pain and prejudice that many of my fellow human beings deal with on a daily basis and to have the courage to ask forgiveness. But if forgiveness is to happen, I must tell what I am sorry for—and for me to be sorry, I must recognize the wrongdoing that I have done.  I pray my eyes will be opened  and for my heart to be sensitive.  May God forgive America and may God forgive me.  Amen. 

Volf’s work comes from Injustice and the Care of Souls                                                                                                  Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook and Karen B.Montagno, Editors

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

We’ve likely seen the end of Affirmative Action in college—and that’s a real shame.

Amongst the list of controversial topics, Affirmative Action is high on the list; I’m guessing somewhere behind gay marriage but ahead of tax policy—it’s just that Affirmative action has been out of the public view the last few years, until now.  That’s all going to change thanks to Abigail Fisher, a white student who is upset that she was not admitted to the University of Texas despite her high grades in high school which arguably should have been sufficient for her to be accepted.   She was not admitted, she claims, according to her race; and Affirmative Action is to blame.

Back in 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that colleges and universities could use race as a deciding factor in regards to admission.  Sandra Day O’Connor wrote the final opinion for this case, and she felt that adding diversity to college classrooms “encourages lively classroom discussions, fosters cross-racial harmony and cultivates leaders seen as legitimate” (New York Times).  (My own perspective on diversity in education can be seen here).

The Supreme Court will be taking up this issue in the fall, right during the heat of the presidential elections (like there wasn’t enough divisive issues already), and I can already tell you what’s going to happen—it’s going to be overturned.  Guaranteed.  No doubt about it.  In a political climate in which individual freedom is trumpeted as a divine right and in which “big government” is being cast as the devil, there’s no way this gets upheld. Plus there’s the minor inconvenience that Sandra Day O’Connor has retired and conservative Justice Samuel Alito is in her place.

This fall is going to be the ultimate political cage match, “class-warfare,” ObamaCare, and now “Affirmative Action.”  Tired of all the over-the-top political rhetoric? You ain’t heard nothin’ yet; this is only the beginning, and it is so appropriate.  This entire election is going to come down to socio-economics and what is “fair.” Ms. Fisher thinks she was “discriminated” against because of her race—that’s right, because of the fact she’s white.  I don’t know much about Ms. Fisher, but she’s from Sugar Land, TX a wealthy suburb of Houston.  Sugar Land is one of the most affluent cities in Texas with a median family income of $113,261 and a median home price of $369,600.  Sugar Land has the most “master planned communities” in Fort Bend County, which itself has the most “master  planned communities” (McMansions) in the nation; seems like Sugar Land is a nice place to call home.

America is theoretically a place where everyone has a “fair-shot.”  I was watching “The Five” on FoxNews the other night and the group got into a little discussion about whether America has a level playing field.   “The Five” consisted of 4 young, attractive conservatives (2 male, 2 female) and a fat, old liberal wearing suspenders (that’s “fair and balanced for ya’).  Anyway, Suspenders asked whether a “crack baby” born in the Bronx has the same shot in life as a white baby born of a two parent home in Connecticut (or for that matter, Sugar Land). Sure enough, Mr. GQ conservative says “absolutely.” Uh huh.

So this is really what Affirmative Action comes down to and why it’s a microcosm for everything that‘s going on in the political spectrum right now.  Affirmative Action tries to rectify the obvious (yes Mr. GQ conservative, it is obvious) that “crack baby” and “Sugar Land” baby do not in any way, shape, or form have an equal shot.   Previously, acceptance into UT required the student be in the top 10% of their high school class.  It seems strikingly apparent that growing up in an affluent two-parent household might not be the same as growing up the child of a single mom who works two, maybe three jobs to pay the bills. Heck, would a single-parent child even have the money to pay for a lawyer to sue over Affirmative Action? Would they even have a chance in their poorly funded, overly crowded, run-down city schools to learn about Affirmative Action?

It’s quite a shame, really. I’m incredibly saddened for the minority students who already disproportionately have so many obstacles in their way and now there will be yet another hurdle to jump. It’s really a shame—yes, shame on you Abigail Fisher, shame on you.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What was she thinking marrying me???

What was she thinking marrying me??? Married men, do you ever wonder?

When I was in Bible college, I heard a lot (and I mean A LOT) of sermons, and being that it was a conservative Bible college, the speakers were always male.  It seemed every pastor would get up and talk about how lucky he was that his wife had married him, how beautiful she was, and how she was by far the “better half.”  Well, as a college age kid I thought of myself pretty highly and felt that I would have quite a bit to offer any women who would marry me.  Heck, she’d be lucky to marry me, I’m a catch. 

After seven plus years of marriage, I’ve learned a thing or two; I AM the lucky one—by far!

Ever heard the phrase “marrying up?” The idea is that a man (or woman) is able to marry someone from a higher cultural status than his own.   It would be like the shift manager at the local fast food joint being wedded to a wealthy heiress.  Ok, a bit drastic of an example, but you get my point.  In my marriage, I’m the one who married up! What was she thinking?!

Have you ever seen Eat, Pray, Love with Julia Roberts? (Ok, in fairness I’ve only seen Eat, because I got bored of the movie and stopped watching)  At the beginning of the movie Julia Robert’s character is driving home from a party with her husband and he proceeds to tell her about his new career idea, something about going back to school or something; she is less than pleased. If you’ve seen the movie, you know the rest of the story— she dumps him and then goes on a soul-searching adventure in which she eats, prays, and eventually falls in love (or so my wife told me). 

For some reason that husband character sticks out in my mind; he was just a loser.  The movie makes it pretty obvious, he was dead weight and she was wise to let him go; he was the symbol of her old life, of her not being herself—he was a microcosm of all that was wrong with her life. 

What’s the point you say? Well, I’m that guy—just without as nice of a car! I mean, look at me, I have a ministry degree that is worthless in the job market. Have I learned my lesson? Nope, I’m currently working on another ministry degree (a Masters of Divinity).  If that wasn’t bad enough, I haven’t had a job that actually required a college-degree for employment in probably six years and I currently work in warehouse; that’s right—a warehouse.   I wear torn jeans and t-shirt to work, and then I come home and read theology books.

Also just like the movie, my wife is the one bringing in the bacon.  Back in college, somehow I fooled her into thinking I was worthwhile and she followed me to my school.  It took the last ten years of her life to make up for that bad decision! She finally graduated last year as a Registered Nurse (read more about that here).  Just think, if she hadn’t been foolish enough to pursue me, she would have graduated a long time ago!

This is all to say, just like all those pastors used to say (and probably still do), my wife is by far the better half!  Without reservation, I definitely married up (and maybe someday I will rise to her brilliance).  My Valentine’s Day reflection (a day late) is this—thank God for women who will give losers like me a chance!  (I hope to someday prove she made a good choice! J)

Happy Valentine’s Day – I love you!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Remember the Sabbath and Rest!

A few days ago I slept for 13 hours over a 24 hour period.

I can’t remember a time I was so worn out—physically, mentally, emotionally, and dare I say spiritually.  I was completely drained.  Physically I had pushed myself extremely hard, mentally I was planning and preparing for a weekend class, emotionally I had been stretched to my limits at work; my spirit was dragging.
The night before I had arrived in Tulsa and was staying with some friends.   I felt like a zombie when I arrived at their house and they encouraged me to get some rest, yet I was determined to rise early and begin what I hoped to be a productive day. At 9:30 pm that night I set alarm for 7:05am yet eventually that got “snoozed”  back to 8:35am and I eventually dragged myself out of bed; I didn’t want them to think of me as lazy! It wasn’t more than 3 hours later I was back in bed after struggling to keep my eyes open while reading. I awoke over two hours later—slightly embarrassed and ashamed of my slothfulness. Yet, had it really been simply indolence?

As I walked around the house hoping to rouse from my slumber, I perused the bookshelves and my eyes fell upon a title which spoke to my current predicament. A book by Richard H. Lowery, Sabbath and Jubilee, met my eyes with pleasant surprise; I had heard mention of the book before yet never seen it firsthand.  Here I had been, embarrassed by my weariness and was now holding in my hands words which emphasized the importance of rest.  I’m not the most spiritual person, but it seemed to me more than a coincidence.
“Individuals and families today face a spiritual crisis. We are overworked, stressed out, in debt, and chronically neglecting the basic disciplines of spiritual growth and family nurture…Our spirits hunger for wholeness” (1-2).  Lowery summarizes the demands placed upon individuals, families, and even nations and writes his book to “bring the healing wisdom and critical challenge of ancient biblical sabbath tradition into conversation with our own stressed out, overworked, spiritually starving world” (5).

Sabbath is a principle found in the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament which emphasized rest and the forgiveness of debt.  Even in (one of) the Genesis creation story we read that on the seventh day, God rested, it was a story of sabbath’s origin.  Even if it was not always followed, the vision was of a constant theme of rest and restoration.

If we try to think back about the culture and society in which Sabbath came to be, we can understand who Sabbath was intended for—the least fortunate.  It was the laborers, the slaves, the poor who would have to work every day of their life to maintain their existence; and the principle of Sabbath addressed their situation entirely.  The slaves would be freed their seventh year of service, the poor would have their debts forgiven, and the laborers would have a chance to rest. It was about rest and relief for “the most vulnerable” (121).
Lowery speaks to the overly busy people we are; “we must figure out boundaries (and) set limits to the ubiquitous workplace (and) find ways to deliver sufficient and timely relief for families (and our) communities” (149). 

After my long day of rest I was truly able to appreciate the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual value of rest. Society tells us fulfillment is found in working and achieving the “American dream,” some believe work is “God-ordained,” but the Bible says sometimes it’s more important just to rest; so sleep in, get some rest, and don’t feel guilty.

Remember the Sabbath—rest!